What We’ve Been Playing – January 2019

What We've Been Playing - New Frontiers - January 2019

Janaury is a cold, wet, often dreary month. With that in mind it's better to stay warm inside the home and play plenty of board games! Here's what we've been playing during the last month!

Will M - Architects, Status Report and Quantum

January flew by this year! Still, as ever, I made sure I played as many board games as I could squeeze in, notching up 29 plays of 20 unique games. My new acquisition and fascination, Architects of the West Kingdom, was unsurprisingly my most played game of the month, as I played it at three and four-player counts, played solo versus the AI opponent (“Constantine”), followed by a game the next night when Constantine and I invited my 10-year-old daughter to join us. She absolutely loved it and can’t wait to play again – every time I play this game it becomes apparent that there’s no one way to win it, which is awesome in my eyes and enhances its replay-ability.

I also played my new Kickstarter game, Status Report by Offcut Games, a few times – it’s a hidden role game where the captain of a spaceship has to discover which of the artificial intelligence systems (played by the other players) is on his side and not trying to kill his crew. I’d love to see this quick social deduction game to get a retail release.

Surprise of the month award goes to Quantum, a fantastic game of galaxy exploration and combat where your spaceships are represented by enormous cloudy transparent dice! The game has so much depth and numerous available options each turn. On my final turn I thought "I need to stop Tom somehow..." then realised I could colonise a world then place another colony if I won a battle and increased my infamy - it all came off to my delight and was a real shocking moment as nobody else saw me as a threat! Its sadly out of print at the moment – here’s hoping Funforge decide to do a reprint so that more people can enjoy it.

Simon L - Just One, Meeple War and Skyliners

Following on from my December post, I have continued to log plays and thus can compare, as an example, January 2019 with January 2018. Additionally I, well I wouldn’t say invested, but bought an app that logs plays but also allows you to time your games, log the winner, the scores, the players and attach photos and notes. The cool thing is when you next add a game it can recall who you last played with (in case you mainly play with those people). I’m already up to playing with 49 different players already!

I was fortunate enough to play one of my picks and surprises of last year, Just One, on a cold Sunday afternoon. The same day, as well as a number of days following, I have played a game I got last year at Essen; Meeple War, plus Skyliners (also from Essen). One is a cube pushing/working placement-esque rinse and repeat attacking game (hence War in the title) – the game's theme relates to the meeples in Carcassonne before they built roads and castles (and you discover why the red and blue meeples are more prevalent on the Carcassonne box). The other, Skyliners, is also an apt title, it’s a spatial building game, I would say like Santorini meets Hive. It’s abstract but has more of a fun feel.

Speaking of Hive, I played both regular Hive as well as trying out Hive Carbon (purely black and white). Whilst some dislike the mono-tone, I didn’t mind it….having said that, I lost both games!

What We've Been Playing - Just One (Credit: Repos Production)

Throne of Games - Coimbra, Klask and Flash Point

In Coimbra we seek to earn prestige by impressing the city's most powerful citizens with money or private security, visiting local monasteries to win favour and by funding expeditions to far flung lands.

The game is based around a clever dice drafting mechanic where both the pip value and die colour tie the phases of the game together. Pip value allows you to gain character cards that boost your influence, the colours help you convert that influence into income so you can build even bigger point-scoring plays. I'm a big fan of forward planning, combos, and mechanisms that can have an impact over more than one part of game play, like we have here. It's my pick of the month!

Klask is a fast paced dexterity game phenomenon with world championships being held annually.Klask is like a low-tech mini Air Hockey. Two players sit at a raised wooden table, they control their player piece by moving around a magnetic handle on the underside of the board. You win points in a few ways including getting the ball into your opponent's goal, or using the ball to knock two of the four magnetic “biscuits” onto your opponent's player piece. It's an excellent game at parties or for couples.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a co-operative game in which players are firefighters working together to rescue people from a burning building before it collapses. Players must search the board for people to rescue and fires to extinguish. If they don't keep on top of it the fire spreads, causing explosions and dreaded flash overs which can knock out fire fighters, kill survivors and damage the building. If you like games like Pandemic, then Flash Point could be for you.

Louis N - Games at Handcon

The past month has been quite an eventful one. Handycon is one of the more well-known gaming conventions in the UK... 600 OR so gamers pile into the Holiday Inn in Maidenhead, for a weekend of barely leaving a chair. And that’s shortly after the biggest national holiday period of the year, so there have been games aplenty ... for me, and for many others.

A couple of games – easily my games of the year – have seen a couple of outings in that time – Teotihuacan, Coimbra, Newton. Gugong has seen a few plays, too. But I would like to focus on a few games that have been new to me, in that time.

I’m not overly keen on Uwe Rosenberg’s farming games. Lowlands looks like a Rosenberg farming game, and was published as the first in the Use Rosenberg “series" – so this was clearly something which the publisher wanted to make the most of. That was enough to put me off. However, having had a weekend of 'games games games' at Handycon, I was interested in giving something new – something I wasn’t hugely interested in – a go. And I was pleasantly surprised. The farming aspect, multiplying sheep and building enclosures felt all too familiar. As did buying buildings to add to a tableau. But the damn, and the threat of a flood, made the game much more interesting. And ideally do mean MUCH more.

The water level is constantly rising throughout the game. Players may choose whether to contribute their resources to building to dam, or to use them to develop their own farms. But be warned, if the dam isn’t sufficient to hold back the time, those who have contributed the least through the game will be penalised the most. And the penalty could be severe. Livestock could be lost, and that would be... a disaster!

It should be really obvious from this that I enjoyed Lowlands far more than I expected to. Now that I’ve been ignoring it for months, maybe it’s time to put it on my radar.

I’ve also managed to get a few plays of Dice Settlers in this month. If you don’t know much about this one, it’s a dice driven 4X game. Dice rolls determine which of several actions may be taken – the number of matching faces determine the strength of the action. It’s a compact game – it plays in around an hour, which makes it ideal for a shorter game – unusual for a 4X game.

Everyone I’ve played Dice Settlers with has enjoyed it. But I’m not sure that it is the sort of game that anyone will choose to play over many others. I’d certainly recommend giving it a go.

What We've Been Playing - Dice Settlers (Credit: NSKN Games)

Luke P - Pandemic Legacy and Arkham Horror

So, this month it’s been a mixed bag but the two that stand out tell great stories.

I’ll start with Pandemic Legacy Season 1. Pandemic has become the “go to” co-operative game and although I enjoy and respect it, it isn’t a game I find myself wanting to play as I have moved on from it in many ways. I was worried when my group started Legacy 1 that unless it really did some great stuff it was just going to be a gateway game played over and over again with the odd sticker here and there. Oh how wrong could I have been!!

I won’t spoil anything but the story that is developing just keeps getting better and better with all of us engaged and completely immersed in the unfolding narrative. The story is told over 12 rounds of each month of the year. If you lose the first attempt you play again but if you lose again you move on to the next month. Things can change based on when/if you win and being told to open boxes or windows on big folios that look like old school advent calendars are always exciting moments as with everything that’s happened so far we just can’t imagine what’s going to follow. I urge you to grab a group and jump into Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and enjoy the rollercoaster.

Arkham Horror LCG, I’ll keep this shorter but here sits another game that completely engages me and excites me with the stories it’s telling. I feel like I am playing old school “choose your own adventure” books with fantastic artwork depicting the terrifying and mind bending world of FFG’s Cthulhu mythos. I am yet to really get into the deck-building aspect of the game but I am looking forward to really delving into cards to tweak my characters and deal with a game that really doesn’t hold back and pushes you to your limits on every adventure. Adding new scenarios is inexpensive and each holds new challenges to take on or gives you new cards and characters to go back to previous scenarios and attempt in new and interesting ways

I have realised in the last year that story telling and cinematic moments is what I look for in games. These two have all of that and then some. Go and immerse yourself in a world of fantasy and escape the daily rat race for a few hours

James H - Hokkaido and Warhammer Underworlds

It’s cold and dark outside… what better conditions for a board game! That being said, I think any weather is board gaming weather! This month has been a big one for my baby - trying out solid foods, starting to crawl AND her first-time being on the winning team for a game! (Honestly, she’s consistently been on the losing team for a good few months!)

Playing card drafting games is hard with a baby under one arm, but Hokkaido has made an impression on us this month. It may sound pithy, but I have a lot of appreciation for the way the game handles two-player drafting. It’s elegant, simple and addresses a common weakness for drafting games.

Hokkaido sees you laying out a map that is shaped by mountains and lakes. It is clever, novel and satisfying! I love the way it interacts with the earlier game, Honshu, and even the little touches such as the split between the seasons on the islands (I’ve heard this is actually how it is there!). My baby didn’t do so well at Hokkaido. Card drafting combined with carefully laid cards is fine… until you add a tiny extra player who wants to grab everything.

However, we absolutely smashed it playing Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire! Team Hitchmough played as the Eternals and locked down into a defensive huddle that decimated their enemies. We had some fortunate rolls and made some good tactical choices. I especially enjoyed the way combat played out, using a system that makes a lot of sense.

Shadespire and its successor, Nightvault, remind me of the tabletop version of PC squad-based strategy games. Each character has their own card with individual powers and abilities on, with the opportunity to unlock and expand these actions. The game is easy to get into, with top notch miniatures and rules that aren’t too complicated. A massive well done to Games Workshop for this board game!

I’m pretty sure that my little lady is going to grow up to be a gamer - who knows What We’ll Be Playing in the years to come!

Craig P - Fake Artist, New Frontiers and Dice Hospital

New month, new year, new games and expansions at the table.  That seemed to be the overriding gaming experience this month, as I managed to cross of a number of titles on my ‘want to play list’ as the days passed.

I finally managed to get my copy of A Fake Artist Goes to New York (Oink Games) to the table. This was played a few times at our New Year gathering, and although a fair few weren’t avid board gamers, this went down well overall. The first few rounds weren’t all that interesting, as players got to grips with the general premise, but as we continued on into the early hours, the group as a whole really started getting into the whole ‘draw things obscurely, don’t give too much away’ idea that defines the game.

I’ve started playing some games with a local group of friends on a bi-weekly Wednesday evening. I am overjoyed as since moving out of London a little over a year ago; the amount of time I have been able to devote to the hobby has dwindled. This has also allowed me the opportunity to try out a whole host of new-to-me games. First off, we have Dice Hospital (Alley Cat Games). A fun take on action selection, and dice manipulation. I enjoyed this having missed out on last years Kickstarter campaign. I am looking forward to trying this out in future with the Specialist cards, as I felt the standard game lacked something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The other new-to-me game that left the biggest impression on me is New Frontiers (Rio Grande Games), the third game set in the …For the Galaxy series. I haven’t played Race for the Galaxy, but do own and enjoy Roll for the Galaxy. I can see where this would scratch the itch of many a gamer, and appreciated the intricacies related to timing of selecting actions, altering player order, purchasing from the market.  I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to add this to my collection; I would need to try it again.

Saving the best until last, after months of waiting for the UK release, I received a copy of Great Western Trail: Rails to the North. I had been waiting for this since it was announced pre-UKGE 2018. I love the base game, it being number three in my All-Time List – yes, I rate it that highly. This expansion has certainly cemented the admiration I have for it.

The mechanisms themselves are straightforward enough to insert with new players, as it doesn’t add much in the way of complexity. The only changes which some found a little confusing at first was where you can sell your cows to, although the Kansas processes often need explaining in detail anyway. I am glad that this takes a little more focus away from simply buying cows, the new building tiles and Medium Town tokens in the map extension open new strategies. I can’t recommend this enough for owners of the base game.

Tom H – Ulm and Wendake

January has felt like a 3x3 challenge for me – but I don’t mean one of those ‘play x number of games x number of times’ attempts. Rather, I’ve played two different games this month, and both of them have featured a three-by-three grid of ever-evolving action tiles.

Ulm is a Euro style game by Günter Burkhardt, set in the German city during medieval era. But it’s the aforementioned grid of action tiles that elevates it above being just another bland point salad-fest. Players draw an action tile from a bag, and then they insert it into the grid, thus pushing one tile out.

It’s a similar mechanic to vintage game Labyrinth, by Ravensburger – but that’s where the comparisons end. Players then get to play the three actions of the tiles in the row they activated. It makes for a fascinating, interactive experience, where you’ll either praise or (more likely) curse your neighbour’s actions, because they directly impact your own options! (I’ll be doing a full review for Ulm in February – SPOILERS: It’s a great game.)

Wendake differs, however, because here players have their own nine-tile 3x3 action grid (no blaming others; you’ll be the architect of your own failure or master of your own destiny).This features Native Americans and has a dose of area control, area movement and set collection. Each round players pick a row – diagonal or orthogonal – and activate the three actions depicted. The tiles then get flipped; they can’t be reused for now.

At the end of three actions, your 3x3 grid slides down – so the bottom three tiles slip out. Players can opt to replace one of these three tiles with an upgraded one from a public pool, and then all three join the vacant row, face-up again, at the top of the tile grid. Two thumbs up from me; I hope to play it again, soon…